Hiro Athanassiou: Greece was, is and will be important for us - Κεντρική Εικόνα

Hiro Athanassiou: Greece was, is and will be important for us

01 Δεκέμβριος 2014Investing In Greece

Consistency and stability characterize the investment activity of Unilever in Greece, while the company supports Greek production over time and continues on the same course, by giving increasing emphasis on sustainability.

What is the footprint of Unilever in the Greek economy? What are the fundamentals of the company, how many people are employed, how many production units do you have? Which are your major collaborations with the Greek suppliers?
Unilever operates two distribution centers and three factories in Greece, at Rentis, Neo Faliro and Gastouni Ilia. There we produce 65% of the food and other product SKUs that we distribute codes in Greece, using mostly Greek raw materials. Meanwhile, through a joint venture partership with Τseriotis company, Unilever Greece operates a factory and distributes many successful products in Cyprus.
Our most important “footprint” in society relates to our people. Our 850 employees in Greece and Cyprus, who, through their daily effort and innovative ideas contribute to our success in a long-term way, and our 740 Greek direct suppliers, with whom we work on a long term basis.

In recent years, despite the difficult economic situation the company has made significant investments in new plants and new facilities. Can you describe these actions to us? What exactly do these investments include and what was the amount of money spent?
The history and continuity of our investment program, totaling 250 million euros for the period 2008-2013 confirms Unilever's trust in our country. Greece was, is and will be an important part of Europe for Unilever.
For this reason, despite the economic crisis, we fully implemented our investment program starting with the successful completion of the acquisition of all ELAIS S.A. shares in 2008, which was followed by a series of investments for the restructuring of our factories, as well as acquisitions and strategic partnerships in order to extend our product portfolio.

Among these, we must mention the expansion of our factory in Renti that has acquired strategic importance for Unilever internationally, as through this establishment we produce and export specialized goods in companies belonging to the Unilever Group, in 10 countries. In 2012, the new distribution center and food storage in Schimatari, came into operation helping us to increase the company’s efficiency and maintain jobs in an area with high levels of unemployment. At the same time, we completed the acquisitions of the EVGA ice cream sector and the personal care products of Sara Lee, further increasing our proposals to consumers.

Also, in this difficult period for the Greek economy and the market you have decided to outsource the production of personal hygiene and household cleaning products. What led you to this strategic decision and in what part of your turnover are the products produced in Greece corresponding?
Our commitment has always been to support Greek production. Apart from the three factories that our company operates in Greece since 1962 in 2013, we transfered tens of our products from abroad to manufacturers in the Greek market. The result of this strategy is that now 70% of our turnover in food and 65% of our total turnover is generated in our country.

In a further effort to stimulate domestic production, the factories at Agios Ioannis Rentis and the EVGA one, are further producing several SKUs that are exported to other countries in which Unilever operates.

What is included in your development plans in Greece for the forthcoming years? Have you undertaken any actions regarding the development of new products, infrastructure or pricing?
Every year we present new products, as we believe that innovation is the only way to develop and increase competitiveness. It's the way to respond in the best way possible to the needs of our consumers. Apart from innovation, our main objective is to constantly improve the quality of our products. It is why we are continuously developing the compositions of our food products, in accordance with the current dietary recommendations, reducing saturated fat, sugar, salt and calories.

Similarly, at Unilever we are continuously aiming to improve our quality-price ratio, given that price in Greece, due to the economic downturn, plays an important role for consumers. But lowering the prices does not mean poor quality. That’s why we try to include in our product portfolio choices and proposals covering a wide range in terms of prices, without any compromise on quality, to reach out to all consumers. Typical examples are the product range under the "Elais" brand name and some ice cream brands from Algida and EVGA available at highly competitive prices.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability are an integral part of the culture of Elais-Unilever Hellas, which carries out initiatives in order to support Greek Society and also reduce its environmental footprint. Can you summarize your strategy in this area?
Sustainability and responsible growth has been our goal from the foundation of our company till today. In practice this means that we want to grow dynamically as a business, but not at the expense of society and the environment. It's the only way society and our fellow citizens will give us the right to exist and grow. This is the only way to find the raw materials for our products and to make sure that the communities in which we operate and we as a corporation will have well-being.

It's been 3 years since the publication of Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, a 10-year program which embraces the entire lifecycle - from raw materials and production to disposal – of all of our products in all the countries we operate in. We have already achieved significant results, which strengthens our belief that businesses can and should be part of the solutions that society and its citizens demand.

Actions such as “Heart Routes” of Becel pro-activ, the AIM mobile dental unit that has examined more than 300,000 children, the "Solidarity Neighborhood" carried out in collaboration with UNICEF in the last two years, are a few examples of our local initiatives. Actions we are proud of and behind which lies the enthusiasm of my colleagues, who have believed in the Sustainability Plan.

Is sustainability linked to growth or is it just a trend of our era and a very theoretical concept?
I will try to answer through a particular program implemented in Greece: the program of sustainable cultivation of tomatoes launched in 2011 that takes place in Gastouni, in the Peloponnese. In order to enhance the viability of local production, we work with 100 local tomato producers. Thanks to the training and the application of good agricultural practices, these farmers have managed to benefit the environment and increase their income by reducing costs, significantly reducing the irrigation water that they use in their fields and their waste.

In business terms, sustainable crop resulted in increasing the yield of the fields and the actual size of the area that is being cultivated. And most importantly, the farmers have ensured that their entire crop is bought by our factory within the principles of contract farming, thus covering the needs of the Greek market for Pummaro products but also to be exported to Unilever Europe for Knorr products.

Along with the benefits for growers, there is a clear improvement in the environmental indicators relating to the operation of our plant. That's because the tomatoes produced are of better quality, with lower water content, so less energy is required for compacting.

In general, this is our plan for Sustainability: benefit the environment, reduce our costs and support the community and its citizens.